The visit by two judges from the Montreal-based International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, Dilki de Silva and Martin Darbyshire, to evaluate Cape Town’s bid for World Design Capital 2014, ended off on a better note than its start, at least as far as the weather was concerned! The judges left town yesterday, after a jam-packed visit.
Oddly, the tourism industry was not informed prior to the visit what exactly the judges would be exposed to, and other than Twitter, there was barely any communication from the Cape Town Partnership, nor Cape Town Tourism, or the City of Cape Town during their visit. Cape Town Tourism would not even share the itinerary of the judges’ visit after their departure, but fortunately Cape Town Partnership Managing Director Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana obliged immediately on receiving our request.
The judges were put through an active programme of activities, arriving on Sunday when the city was blowing a storm, perhaps apt as the new Cape Town Tourism video is all about depicting the city with billowing clouds over Table Mountain! The judges had flown in from Dublin, and residents of Cape Town would have known that something was different, with yellow material wrapped around 100 trees on Heerengracht Street, and the lights shining on Table Mountain having been changed to yellow over the three day visit of the judges. The bid company Cape Town Town Partnership had used yellow as the colour for its bid, to represent optimism, and it was chosen as ‘an attention-grabbing, creative and inspirational colour. We chose it to represent our World Design Capital bid and it represents our passion for design as a force for change.’
On arrival at Cape Town International on Sunday morning the judges were shown the World Design Capital 2014 stand which had been designed for the Design Indaba exhibition in February, a rainbow-coloured perspex structure on which Design Indaba attendees were invited to write their words of inspiration about the city. The two judges were driven to the city centre in a MyCiti bus, and from the Civic Centre bus station to the Taj Hotel in a Green Cab. The judges had Sunday afternoon off, a waste of time one would have thought, given that the city centre is dead on Sundays. There was no rest for the judges thereafter, being driven to the Cape Town International Convention Centre for a 7h00 breakfast on Monday, at which the judges were addressed by Mayor Patricia de Lille, Cape Town Partnership CEO Andrew Boraine, Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, Cape Town International Convention Centre CEO Rashid Toefy, and Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille. After a walk around the Convention Centre, the judges presented the rationale for the World Design Capital project, and its legalities, to which the City of Cape Town responded. Brad Habana did a presentation on a Private Sector Sponsorship Strategy for Cape Town, a topic which seemed to not fit the design theme of the judges’ visit.
Driven in Africa’s first electric car built in Cape Town, the Joule, the judges were taken to the Montobello Design Centre, hardly the epitome of design excellence in our city! From there they were driven to Khayelitsha, to view the Violence Protection through Urban Upgrade project and a community library, and thereafter to Mitchell’s Plain to be shown a Design Indaba inspired low-cost housing project, both stops questionable in their impression created, in not reflecting the beauty nor design strength of our city, given the two First World competitors Cape Town has! A highlight must have been a helicopter flip over the city. Without lunch and dinner indicated on the programme, and no time allocated to it, the poor judges must have been starving. On Monday evening they were whipped off to The Assembly nightclub in Harrington Street, the most shabby, unsuitable and non-design venue that could have been chosen, and having no relevance to design at all, with its Japanese paper lanterns, as someone wrote on Twitter. The advertised snacks were non-existent, and invited guests had to pay for drinks. There was not enough seating for guests, even though they had to RSVP. Seating was against the screens, which meant that many guests attending could not see the screens. Other than the presentation by Design Indaba CEO Ravi Naidoo, the presentations were mediocre, read from notes, and came across as absolutely amateurish, and one felt embarrassed for Cape Town and its design talent that this poor venue and platform was chosen in an attempt to impress the judges. The speakers did not address the promised topic of ‘What would it mean for Cape Town to be World Design Capital 2014?’, which is what attracted me to attend. They failed not only the judges, but also the audience, which walked out in growing numbers, especially during a break in the proceedings. I was surprised that the Design Indaba could have been the co-organiser (with the Cape Town Design Network) of this mediocre event, meant to be one of networking too.
On the third day, the judges were allowed to meet an hour later for breakfast, but 8h00 on a morning after the night which saw widespread snow falling around the country, and a temperature of 5°C at that time, the breakfast at the Green Point Urban Park on Tuesday seemed an extremely inappropriate venue, despite its great beauty and design. After breakfast the judges were driven to Stellenbosch University’s Sustainability Institute and the Lynedoch Ecovillage. Then they were taken to Spier for a photograph, and even lunch, it would appear. From here they were driven back to the city centre, to The Fringe in Canterbury Street, not the most savoury part of town, where the judges heard short presentations on the Central City, Creative Cape Town, Catalyst Projects, and the Cape Town Heritage Trust, whereafter they were taken to the nearby District Six Museum. At the Fugard Theatre they heard a presentation about Cape Town’s educational facilities. The judges were entertained at GOLD restaurant to a ‘gala dinner’, according to Cape Town Partnership spokesperson Lianne Burton, and shown around the Gold of Africa Museum. Here our city’s ‘ersatz Madiba’, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, told the judges: “God took special care and time when he created Cape Town”. As if the judges had not heard enough talk, they were exposed to further presentations on their last day, on the planned expansion of the Convention Centre, the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, and were shown the Freeworld Design Center, and entertained at Hemelhuijs next door.
While Cape Town had the advantage of having the judges in the city for four days, compared to only two days in Dublin, they must have been drained by the number of presentations that they had to sit through. One also is disappointed that they did not get to see enough of the beauty of Cape Town (e.g. Atlantic Seaboard, the Waterfront, Chapman’s Peak, Robben Island to create the link to our famous Freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, Cape Point, Cape Town Stadium, the winelands, and Table Mountain – cleverly it was closed for its annual cableway maintenance)! While it would have been difficult to replicate, a mini Design Indaba would have been an important way in which the judges could have experienced the tremendous design talent of Cape Town’s creativity. The Cape Town Design Route, developed by the City of Cape Town, would have been a further highlight to share with the judges. Perhaps anticipating my criticism, Ms Ngewana Makalima wrote: “Design is interpreted in many different ways. In this context we are referring to transformative design aimed at improving the quality of life of ordinary cities. It is not about high-end products, supporting a high end lifestyle. This is why the bid theme is ‘Live Design, Transform Life’”, she wrote. In the Cape Argus she is quoted as saying: “We hope to inspire the judges with our innovation, passion and humanity. Cape Town has an important story to tell of a city that is using design to overcome our historical problems of disconnection, inequality and urban sprawl to create a more inclusive and liveble city for all citizens”. I cannot see how any design will take away the townships, and the shacks inside them, and how it can address ‘inequality’!
A Cape Argus editorial highlighted that ‘fresh thinking in matching the considerable 21st century challenges’ is required for Cape Town. Touching on the legacy of apartheid in a complicated wording, it does state that Cape Town can ‘realign(ing) the urban landscape with post-apartheid values and virtues… Clean government, vigorous debate and a diverse creative sector provide the context for far-reaching innovation in the broad discipline of design with a view to re-imaging the city as a fairer, cleaner, more efficient and more livable space’. We have previously questioned this focus on apartheid, first mentioned by Mrs Helmbold in blaming design for apartheid, given how far South Africa has come, and especially Cape Town, the city that was streets ahead in embracing its citizens of all races long before 1994. We liked the conclusion of the editorial: “We are also convinced that giving the award to Cape Town and contributing to fashioning a fairer city will bring credit to the International Council’s faith in design as an instrument of the greater good.”
Ms Makalima-Ngwenyana said that Cape Town’s bid was about design in public transport, public spaces, community facilities, and the upgrading of informal settlements, in other words designing a more ‘inclusive economic vision’. Mayor de Lille said of the bid: “Cape Town’s bid to be the World Design Capital shows how far we have come as a city. More importantly, it shows how far we want to take this city. The creative industries make up an extremely important part of our local economy. The value of an event such as World Design Capital not only exposes our creative design talents to the world, but in turn develops our local industry into an asset for decades to come.” Ms Burton is quoted as saying that Cape Town’s bid comes from a developing world, compared to those of two cities in the developed world, and said that it would be significant if Cape Town won for a developing country for the first time. “Ours is a serious bid. We’re solving serious problems. It’s design for survival, not simply for pretty things. We need smart ideas for big problems. Smart ideas in inexpensive ways and that’s what Africa’s been doing for years.” Once again, one wonders in which city Ms Burton is living in – the Cape Town I know is largely a vibrant First World, developed city.
Judge De Silva said of Cape Town during her visit: “We’ve been impressed. We’re very positive about Cape Town’s bid. We’re seeing examples of what the city promised in their bid book. We haven’t yet had time to download all the information”.
After the ‘intensive two-day assessment visit’ to Dublin by the judges, the Irish Times reported De Silva as praising the city: “It is very exciting to see so many young people doing creative things in Dublin. We want people to get involved with design and to educate cities about the value and importance of design in community building. I have seen a lot of passion here and people who want change. What you have here is a project that belongs to the community. I didn’t expect the new facilities like the Grand Canal Theatre downtown and the new conference centre. Dublin has a vibrant European feel to it and I see more similarities between young people here and Eindhoven rather than London. You are now in the midst of a design community and the rest of the world looking at Dublin. How you leverage that to your benefit is up to you.” In Dublin the judges visited Irish designers and workshops, the Guinness Storehouse, Ballymum Regeneration, Kilbarrack Fire Station, Baldoyle Library, and the Dublin City Civic Offices. A lunch was held in the Hugh Lane Gallery, a creative venue choice. Dublin is known for its graphic, animation and gaming design, and architects. Third candidate city Bilbao celebrated World Design Day with the launch of 4500 balloons at the end of June. No further information in English is available about the judges’ visit to the city, which clearly must be a front-runner for the Capital status, with its impressive and modern Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. The city is described as‘a dynamic and innovative city with intense social and business activity’, reports the Cape Times.
We are sceptical of Cape Town’s success in this bid, for its heavy focus on the apartheid legacy and design’s role in this. After 17 years of a transformed political landscape, and the abolition of apartheid, this is an old hat theme, and not one that will help us to win against Bilbao and Dublin! It was surprising to see ‘Mr Design South Africa’, Ravi Naidoo, one of our country’s best design brains, and organiser of the internationally acclaimed Design Indaba, missing from the bid committee. We do congratulate the Cape Town Partnership for its bid making the Finalist stage, however, an amazing achievement in itself. Claims that winning as World Design Capital in 2014 will bring in hordes of tourists should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that even being the number one TripAdvisor Travel Destination has not brought any tourists to our city! One had not heard of this competition or any of its past winning cities before, until Cape Town announced its bid last year. According to the Cape Times, the bids ‘are primarily assessed in terms of vision rather than pre-existing city features’, but no future vision appears to have been reflected for Cape Town, with its too great a focus on the past!
It is also clear now where Mrs Helmbold obtained all her ‘Brand Cape Town’ material, in that most of its content appears to have come from the bid book, given that Ms Burton was a consultant to both Cape Town Tourism and the Cape Town Partnership, and a member of the bid team, having left Cape Town Tourism as its marketing manager last year. This left a huge marketing hole for Cape Town, at a time in which the city’s tourism industry is bleeding. It also explains why Mrs Helmbold chose ‘Inspiration’ as the city’s positioning, as it would support the design theme of the bid, even though it is not unique for Cape Town, and has been used by Edinburgh and Korea!
The World Design Capital is awarded biennially, and is ‘more than just a project or a programme: it’s a global movement towards an understanding that design does impact and affect (the) quality of human life’, the President of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, Mark Breitenberg, said. Cape Town was chosen a finalist out of 56 bids presented. The Cape Town 465 page bid book has been nominated for a Loerie Award for creativity. The winning World Design Capital 2014 will be announced on 26 October.
POSTSCRIPT 28/7: The Cape Town Partnership’s PR agency has just sent the following release about the World Design Capital 2014 judges’ visit:
Cape Town’s Creative Community On Board for World Design Capital Selection Visit
Cape Town has said farewell to the World Design Capital’s selection committee, represented by Dilki de Silva (Canada) and Martin Darbyshire (UK). The two were in the city from Sunday, 24 July till Wednesday, 27 July, for a whirlwind tour of what makes Cape Town a true contender for the role of World Design Capital 2014. Cape Town was the last stop on their itinerary of short-listed cities, after Bilbao and then Dublin. Yellow fever swept the local creative community (yellow is the colour of Cape Town’s World Design Capital bid) as more and more stakeholders saw that winning the title would bring a shot of creative energy and global design-focused attention onto the destination. His Grace Desmond Tutu made a special appearance at a gala dinner held in honour of the World Design Capital selection committee’s visit on Tuesday night. He led a blessing for the assembled guests, which included Premier Helen Zille and Executive Mayor, Patricia de Lille.
At a capacity Cape Town Design Network event (attended by De Silva and Darbyshire), which was held at the Fringe in Cape Town’s East City on Monday, 25 July, Design Indaba founder, Ravi Naidoo, announced a challenge to the Cape Town creative community in the form of a competition; Your Street. The initiative invites creative proposals for how an aspect of Cape Town street life can be enhanced through the power of design thinking. The best idea will receive R 50 000 in cash. If the person who brings in the idea also has the business plan and commitment to funding to achieve it, they will receive R 150 000. Impromptu pledges then came in from the audience as architect (and previous Design Indaba 10×10 Housing Project competition winner), Luyanda Mphahlwa, promised a further R50 000 for the most innovative idea, and design leaders, XYZ, leapt up to add R 50 000 worth of design fees towards the creation of the product in reality. Entry into the competition closes on 31 August 2011. Details are at http://www.designindaba.com/yourstreetaware and competitive environment. Naidoo pointed out that being able to live with an understanding of both the first world and the third world allows Capetonians, and South Africans, the advantage of viewing the world through a unique prism, and as such, allowing us to access two thirds of humanity as a market place.
The Cape Town Partnership has been responsible for managing the World Design Capital Bid to date. Managing Director, Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, explained that design in this context goes beyond the creation of product and aesthetics; “In our application for the bid, we focused on design as a tool for transformation and re-integration. Examples include the IRT transport system, which will allow us all to experience less traffic, a project like the Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading in Khayelitsha, which has provided a safe, stimulating space for the community, and the Sustainability Institute in Lynedoch where environmental and social sustainability is being both academically rooted and practically applied.” Says Makalima-Ngewana; “We are exhausted but so happy and so very proud of everyone for presenting Cape Town as an inspiring contender for World Design Capital 2014. We are all holding thumbs for October when the winning city will be announced.”
POSTSCRIPT 29/7: In a Media newsletter today Cape Town Tourism writes about the World Design Capital bid, and once again blames design for apartheid: “The story at the heart of Cape Town’s bid theme is about the city’s use of design to overturn the negative legacy of its colonial and apartheid past; a cruel design which aimed to divide people, disconnect the city, and force both people of colour and the urban poor to its fringes”!
POSTSCRIPT 20/10: A media release received on behalf of the Cape Town Partnership indicates that a delegation of 9 city representatives, under the leadership of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, will be heading to Taipei, for the announcement of the winning city on 26 October. These are extracts from the release: “A high-level delegation, led by Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, is heading to Taipei for the official announcement of the winning city, taking place on the final day of the International Design Alliance (IDA) Congress on 26 October, 2011. The delegation includes Councillor Grant Pascoe, Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events and Marketing; Jo-Ann Johnston, Chief Director of Economic Development and Tourism, PGWC; Alderman Conrad Sidego, Mayor of Stellenbosch Municipality; Andrew Boraine, CEO of the Cape Town Partnership; Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, MD of the Cape Town Partnership; Skye Grove, Communications Manager of Cape Town Tourism; Michael Wolf, Chairperson of the Cape Town Design Network and Luyanda Mpahlwa, leading architect and World Design Capital Bid Committee Member. Executive Mayor De Lille said in her most recent weekly newsletter: “I will be travelling to Taipei for the result, proudly representing the first African city to reach this stage of the process. On the face of it, it is a tremendous opportunity for Cape Town to demonstrate how we are using innovation to address the challenges of our past and the inevitable challenges of our future. Past World Design Capital winners have also seen increased visitor numbers as a result of the title. Torino, Italy, World Design Capital for 2008, reported higher visitor numbers in their title year – which coincided with the global economic downturn – than in 2006, when they hosted the Winter Olympics can result in marked tourism peaks and troughs, World Design Capital has the potential to deliver sustained visitor numbers throughout the title year, through a series of design-led events over the course of 12 months. The title also does not require any infrastructural investment, but is an opportunity to leverage our World Cup infrastructure.”
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage